Eternal God how excellent is your name in all the earth we give you honor and glory for the gift of this day and for the gift of this time of worship. We pray now that as we approach your word, which is a lamp unto our feet, and light unto our pathway, that you would speak to our hearts, that you would illuminate your word. Open our eyes that we may behold the wondrous truth of your word. Bless this frail preacher to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. For your glory for our good in Jesus’ name. Amen.I must rush to express my gratitude to your pastor the Reverend Dr. Bill Evertsberg, and to all of the reverend clergy who serve alongside him, the leaders and parishioners of this fine church. I greet you in the only name I know and that is the precious name of Jesus Christ our Lord. As we celebrate and inaugurate this Lenten season the Lord has directed me to share with you from The Book of Mark. Our text for today is Mark 1:12. Just one verse that I will read into your hearing, hear the word of the Lord.
“Immediately the spirit drove him into the wilderness.” Read it one more time in your hearing since it’s just us here. I’ll read it for you once again, “Immediately the spirit drove him into the wilderness,” and all the people said amen.
The time we have together today I will share from the subject better, just one word better. We are now one year into this COVID-19 pandemic. The losses have been incalculable losses of life, losses of proximity, losses of jobs. We have lost so much not only here in the United States but indeed around the world. There have been a manifold of inconveniences that this pandemic has introduced and truth be told many of us are not only tired of this we are ready to be done with this.
We are over the pandemic, we are over the quarantine, yet this text that I have just read into your hearing today is tailored to teach us, that God uses quarantines for holy purposes. In this text we find Jesus, Jesus the Christ who had just been baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. The Bible declares that at the point of his baptism, as he was coming out of the water, that the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove.
And we could hear God the Father saying, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” He says to Jesus, you are my son you are the one on whom my favor is set after centuries of hearing no prophecy. Centuries in which God had been silent.
In this moment in Mark chapter one, God opens God’s mouth for the first time in a long time. I need to pause here and talk to somebody who feels like you have not been able to hear God clearly speaking to you because of the situation you’re in and the circumstances within which you find yourself. Let me encourage you, God is still speaking. God is present even if you can’t trace God’s hand, you can trust God’s heart. God said he’ll never leave you nor forsake you. He says “you are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” This is in Mark 1:11.
And then the Bible says immediately, (the King James version says straightway, the authorized text for those of us who are proud Bible toters of the King James authorized version). It tells us that straightway Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit of God. Immediately this is a difficult text, brothers and sisters, because we often associate God’s favor with the absence of struggle.
We associate God’s favor with the promised land with milk and honey, and pomegranates and relaxation, and comfort and convenience. Some of us have bought into the very American way of thinking that Jesus’ favor is shown by how large our home is, or how many cars we drive, or what quality our suits are, or how many suits we own, or how many homes we own. We have confused that the fact that God’s favor does not always equate with material possessions and in this text we see that God’s favor is not shown through comfort conveniences and all of the accoutrements.
What we see here is that the surest mark of God’s favor is a personal tailor-made season of isolation. We see here that Jesus just came out of the water of baptism, he’s anointed for the work ahead of him, and he does this in obedience. He identifies with John the Baptist and says just as John the Baptist was baptized, I must be baptized as well, and now in obedience. I get not a blessing but I get brokenness.
How many of us find ourselves in a situation where our obedience drove us into the wilderness? The Bible does not say that Jesus was punished and sent to the wilderness. Jesus was driven by the spirit into the wilderness after the ultimate act of obedience. You don’t think that God will do that to other people? Well let’s call on Job.
Job was a man who the Bible says was blameless and upright. Yet God allows him to endure the loss of his livestock, the loss of his children, even his wife comes to a point where she says you ought to just curse God and die. But Job says even though God has allowed Satan to tear my life apart, though he slay me, yet will I trust him in other words. Job is saying no matter the test or the trial that God has seen fit to allow me to endure, I will depend on God.
In this text we find one even more blameless than Job. We find one even more perfect than Job. We find the king of kings and the lord of lords. We find the God-man Christ Jesus on the heels of his obedience, getting into some good trouble out in the wilderness, tempted by Satan. We see Jesus, captain of our salvation and the bishop of our souls, enduring a season of trial. Wandering around in the barren and desolate wilderness for 40 days because God sent him there to be tested.
Need to ask you a question this morning brothers and sisters. Can God trust you with trouble? See this trouble that Jesus endures is not a sign of disobedience or disfavor. It’s only a test.
First Peter one tells us, that the trials that we have embraced in our lives, or endured in our lives, have come to prove that our faith is genuine just as gold is refined by fire. Our faith is refined in the fire of affliction. I need to pause here as I head towards my seat and talk to somebody who’s in a wilderness season. A season where you are enduring unspeakable infirmity that is ravaging your body. Somebody here who’s in a season of devastating loss, the loss of loved ones, the loss of jobs, the loss of connectivity, the loss of your health. Somebody here in the virtual sanctuary this morning, who is experiencing unrelenting depression, and a seemingly interminable dark night of the soul.
Let me encourage you in the words of First Peter chapter number five. After you’ve suffered a little while God says I’ll make you perfect, I’ll establish you, I’ll strengthen you, I’ll settle you. In other words, after you come out of this, you’ll be fine. I’ll carry you through by my grace and by my mercy. Jesus, went through. Jesus, anointed when he went in, but I can hear the father saying you’re going to be anointed when you come out too. Jesus who was favored when he went in. I can hear God saying you are favored on the way in but you’re going to be favored on the way out too because you’re more than a conqueror. And God is saying to us through the word of God this morning, that if you can hold your peace, and let the lord fight your battles, Psalms said victory shall be yours.
That’s why I can thank him for the mountains, and I can thank him for the valleys, and I can thank him for the storms he’s brought me through because if I never had a problem, I wouldn’t know that God could solve them. I would not know what faith in his word could do, but through it all, yes through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus. I have learned to trust in God. I’ve learned to depend upon his holy word. It’s through it all that we learn brothers and sisters, it’s through it all that we develop our character. Yes you may be anointed, yes you may have been obedient, but God is saying no matter how gifted you are, I’ve got to develop your character in a season of isolation.
Yes you may be anointed, yes you may have been obedient, but God is saying no matter how gifted you are, I’ve got to develop your character in a season of isolation. And if you can go through well, God will bring you out well. But as I take my seat, I want to just close this message by encouraging you, before you rush your way out, before you insist that God ends it now, before you rush your way out of the quarantine, before you ask God to deliver you. I know God’s a way-maker. God I know you’re a deliverer. God I know you’re a miracle worker, but my prayer today and yours ought to be before you bring me out, make me better before you bring me to the other side, before you close this chapter of quarantine.
Make me better. I want to be better. I want to be better in your word. I want your word to be hidden in my heart, so that when Satan tries to tempt me, and test me, and try me, I can say that I’m standing on the promise of God. I want to be better in my prayer life. I want to be better in my faith, better as a husband, better as a wife, better as a father. I want to be better as a mother. I want to be better as a brother, better as a sister, better as a church member. I want to be better as a CEO, so that I treat with dignity the lowest paid person in my company, just as I would treat the chairman of the board. I want to be better in my community, so that I can love all of God’s children, whether they’re white, black, or brown, no matter where they come from, no matter what amount of money they have in their pocket, no matter whether they have food to eat or none to spare. I want to be better.
I want to love like Jesus. I want to talk like Jesus. I want to live like Jesus. I want to give like Jesus. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Consecrate me now to your service. Lord by the power of grace divine let my soul look up with a steadfast hope and my will be lost in thine. Brothers and sisters for this time of quarantine concludes when we rush back into the physical sanctuaries of our churches let’s pray that God will make a sanctuary out of our hearts. Let’s pray that God would make us better so that we don’t come out the same way we went in. See in this text Jesus’ baptism, and his wilderness experience were connected because on the other side there was ministry, and on the other side of the wilderness there’s purpose. No pain in God will be wasted.
You might say well Dr. Pearce, that sounds great, but my loved one didn’t make it out of the pandemic. They died and I’m here to say to you that in Christ whether you live or die it’s all victory. Whether you live or perish it’s all life.
To live as Christ, Paul said, but to die is gain, and so no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, be encouraged that even though your outward man or woman is perishing, your inner man, your spirit, your soul is being renewed day by day by the power of the Holy Spirit and God.
How grateful we are for the sacrifice that you made in that wilderness, to show us that we too have power to endure. We have power to resist the temptation of Satan. We have power to pass the test because we have received your spirit, and we have your word, and so we’ve got the answer key to the exam.
Help us, O God, to walk upright before you in this season of Lenten sacrifice, where some of us turn over our plates and others of us shed habits and activities, that we might focus our hearts and minds on you, and depend on you more fully. Meet us in this time. We pray that as we endure 40 days of sacrifice as we approach Resurrection Sunday, you’ll give us spiritual stamina, you’ll give us grace, you’ll give us clarity, and most of all you’ll give us a deep awareness of your spirit and your presence with us through Christ the Lord. Amen.